Agnes Block—Mother Figure, Property Owner, and Working Woman: Comparing Netherlandish Female and Male Artists’ Family Portraits in the Seventeenth Century

Introduction
Agnes Block[1] was an eminent paper artist, illustrator, horticulturalist, and patron of the arts in Amsterdam.[2] In 1649, Block married for the first time to Hans de Wollf, who was a silk merchant. She reportedly studied, read, drew, painted, and sculpted, and when she drew, she preferred flower beds and arbors because they were important to her.[3] In fact, Joost van den Vondel wrote poems about how she could draw and paint beautifully.[4] Jan Weenix painted a portrait of Block and her family titled Agnes Block, Sybrand de Flines and two children in the outdoor courtyard Vijverhof,[5] presenting Block, her second husband, and two children (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Jan Weenix, Agnes Block, Sybrand de Flines and two children in the outdoor courtyard Vijverhof, 1674 (?).

Scholars argue concerning who these children are, since no offspring resulted from either of Block’s marriages. It is important to consider how portraits present perspectives of the individuals portrayed, sending a message about their socioeconomic background, elegance, and family to the viewers. Although these children could be Block’s stepchildren or her niece and nephew, the children could be allegorical of Block’s ability to be not only a mother figure but also a working woman and property owner. The portrayal of Block and her family portrait subverts societal expectations of women and the identity of the family, which are also portrayed in other family portraits of Netherlandish male and female artists.

Block’s Family Portrait
The date of this family portrait is debated. Albert Blanken believed the painting was created much later in Block’s life.[6] In contrast, Catharina Van de Graft, the biographer of Block, argues that the painting was created in 1674 because Block married de Flines, who was a silk merchant like her first husband, during this year; therefore, this portrait could be commemorative of their wedding. On the actual portrait, the third number of the year is not readable, explaining the differences in scholarly opinions.[7] Block’s second husband had two daughters from a previous marriage: Elizabeth (1662–1717) and Anna (1661–1713). However, in 1674, the two daughters would have been twelve and thirteen years old, which is older than the two children shown here (Fig. 1). Nevertheless, if Jan Weenix did paint the portrait at a later date, it would still be problematic because the girls would have either been depicted as adults or shown as prepubescent teenagers, not children.[8]

While the children could be de Flines’ daughters, the portrait could be depicting a girl and a boy rather than two girls. If this is the case, then the children are probably not de Flines’, since he only had two daughters. It is possible that the children are a nephew and a niece of either Agnes Block or de Flines.[9] Block, not de Flines, determined who would become heirs and continue her legacy; however, throughout her life, Block struggled with creating a will, changing it over ten times. During this time, family members entered and fell out of favor with their aunt. In her will from 1694, Block required that her heir must purchase Vijverhof, the property she owned with the garden depicted in the family portrait (Fig. 1). However, after Block died on 20 April 1704, none of the cousins wanted to buy it. As a result, Vijverhof was sold, the gardens disappeared, and the house destroyed in 1813.[10]

Although the children’s identity are unknown, we see an amalgamation of Block’s material successes. Block, a skilled botanist and breeder of rare and exotic plants, was the first person to successfully grow the foreign fruit of pineapple in the Dutch Republic. In the left hand corner of the painting, a spiky, squat pineapple is depicted in addition to a cactus.[11] Her plants and flowers in Vijverhof came from all over the world—some seeds came from America or Asia. Educated male visitors, including a professor of botany and a German physician, observed her gardens.[12] In the painting, we see poinsettia-looking flowers with long red leaves and smaller white blossoms on either side of the sitting child. In the background, an orange tree and a pomegranate tree are shown. During the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic, domestic scenes were commonly depicted in art because “the domestic interior . . . was a reflection of Christian principles in an ordered setting and the roles of women in the home.”[13] Additionally, Laurinda S. Dixon argues, “[D]omesticity was a moral imperative imposed on women from without.”[14] This portrait is one of the few from the seventeenth century that portrays the client’s yard rather than inside of the home, subverting the traditional portrait and expectations of women. Block is not portrayed as being amoral, even though the scene is portrayed outside. Therefore, the background of the portrait could represent what Vijverhof actually looked like.[15]

When the painting was created could influence whether or not this is an actual portrayal of how Block’s property looked. After her first husband’s death in February 1670, Block bought her own land along the River Vecht in July of that same year. The beautiful Vijverhof included an orangery, buildings, orchards, gardens, and areas of water. However, the work was delayed in 1672 because of war. We do not know how much of Block’s property was completed or when the construction began again. If the painting was dated 1674—a mere two years after work was stopped, it is possible that Vijverhof was still not finished. Block’s home was fortunately spared from the damages of war, but her flower beds were empty, and her joy was marred by broken statues in the spring of 1674.[16] If some of Block’s gardens were not constructed or were damaged from the war, the painting could represent what Block hoped the rest of her property would look like one day.[17] Just as the background of the portrait could represent an imagined, hoped-for Vijverhof, the children in the portrait could also represent hoped-for children.

With Block’s property, works of art, and plants all portrayed, it could seem that the inclusion of family would make the painting overflow with figures and details. However, we see two children, a husband, and a wife, representing what was expected for a “traditional” family unit. De Jongh argues Block adopted the view that imperfect nature had to be perfected by human ingenuity.[18] We see Block’s ingenuity here at work to create a perfect image of herself. Block presents herself as a woman who could have it all, so she would be seen as the hard-working, independent woman, the devoted wife, and the caring mother—or mother figure—even if she never had any children of her own.

The Perception of Widows
The mystery children in the portrait could represent Block’s hope of the future or her mourning of the past she never had. Block was approximately forty-five years old when she remarried. Dating the portrait at 1674 would suggest the possibilities of the future—a new marriage, a new life, and a new legacy. Menopause can affect women at various ages; although we do not know when Block experienced menopause, some women can bear children in their forties. By extension of the portrait, it could suggest the hope “which children were to fulfil in the future”[19] or the hope of conception. On the other hand, dating the portrait around 1694 could represent the fact that the elderly Block knew, near the end of her life, she would never have any children of her own.

Jacob Cats’s Houwelyck, which was published originally in 1625 and was the second bestseller after the Bible, discusses the stages of a woman’s life and includes a chapter on widowhood. This book represents commonly held beliefs and opinions of the day. In the Dutch Republic, portraits of elderly women often focused on their spirituality. Widows were expected to bridle their passions because the elderly were expected to be better at controlling themselves than the younger generation.[20] However, in Block’s family portrait, Block—although not a young woman—is a widow; nevertheless, she is not portrayed as overly pious (e.g., she is not depicted as praying or reading scripture). Additionally, widows were examples not only to young women who were about to marry but also to married women on how to interact with their husbands and rear their children.[21] The words widow and mentor were synonymous in the perspective of the Dutch, yet Block would not have completely fit that mold. Yes, she was a widow and did not bear any children, and thus she had no experience raising children.

Whoever the children are in the portrait, Block appears to accept and take on the appearance of role model and mother figure. Nevertheless, she complicates the role proscribed by patriarchal values and expectations in early modern Europe and re-fashions herself into who she is and how she wants to be seen. Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare centers around how people believed they had malleable roles and identities in life during sixteenth-century England.[22] Similarly, Block sees herself as having malleable roles and how that influences the depiction of her family and her in the portrait (Fig. 1). The following sections will compare and contrast Block’s family portrait with other portraits of Netherlandish male and female artists during the seventeenth century.

Male Artists’ Family Portraits
In contrast to the portrait of Agnes Block, we see family portraits of artists, sometimes with or without children. The Artist with his Family (c. 1646–47), a self-portrait by Karel van Mander III, depicts no children—only his wife and mother-in-law are shown (Fig. 2). His wife reads the Bible, while her mother does needlework. Both women appear to be pious and respectable. In contrast, family portraits of other artists do include children in the picture. In Cornelis Dusart’s Jan Steen and Family, we see a nagging wife, while Jan Steen, the artist, tries to work (Fig. 3). A boy kneels before the father with a puppy in hand, trying to distract the father who is turning away from the wife, pestering him from behind. Additionally, there is another child in the background who appears to be riffling through the father’s paintings. This portrayal suggests that the wife should be taking care of the children so the husband can focus on his work, the painting resting on the easel.

Figure 2. Karel van Mander III, The Artist with his Family, 1646–47.

Figure 3. Cornelis Dusart, Jan Steen and Family, date unknown.

Figure 3. Cornelis Dusart, Jan Steen and Family, date unknown.

The family portraits of Karel van Mander III and Jan Steen are different from Block’s family portrait. Block’s family portrait includes the children in the painting, but Block is not shown as being distracted or unable to complete her work, as in Steen’s family portrait. Children are portrayed in her family portrait, unlike van Mander’s, while Block efficaciously displays her accomplishments from her collection, such as shells and butterflies, without overcrowding the painting with too many knick knacks. Block appears to be more successful than the male artists because she seemingly can do both with neither her work nor the children suffering. The children appear to be happy (e.g., the smiling faces of both children) and loved (e.g., the girl and Block’s affectionate interaction). Additionally, the children do not rummage through her things or interrupt her, showing that she has been able to work, create drawings, and establish her own home in a peaceful environment. Although she may not be the ideal role model (i.e., a woman with children of her own), Block is still portrayed as a successful mother figure.

Figure 4. Peter Paul Rubens, Rubens, His Wife Hélène Fourment, and Their Son Peter Paul, probably late 1630s.

In other family portraits of Netherlandish artists, we see the portrayal of blending new families together, such as if one spouse died and the remaining spouse remarried. For example, Rubens’s first wife died, and he remarried a woman named Hélène Fourment. The painting by Rubens called Rubens, His Wife Hélène Fourment, and Their Son Peter Paul shows him at a new stage of his life (Fig. 4).[23]

There is no attention shown here to children from the first marriage[24] or other children from the second marriage. Rather, the focus is on the new family Rubens has created; Hélène Fourment was only sixteen and Rubens was fifty-three when they married. They are shown together, Rubens staring at Fourment, who is looking down at the child, who is gazing up at his mother. Rather than painting all of his children from both marriages, he painted only his youngest son. This painting does not represent a blending of the entire family; rather, it represents a specific portrayal of Rubens with his second wife and youngest son.

Figure 5. Michiel van Musscher, Portrait of Michiel Comans (d. 1687), calligrapher, etcher, painter and schoolmaster, with his third wife Elisabeth van der Mersche, 1669.

Another example of an artist’s family portrait without children is Portrait of Michiel Comans (d. 1687), calligrapher, etcher, painter and schoolmaster, with his third wife Elisabeth van der Mersche by Michiel van Musscher, which was painted in 1669 (Fig. 5).

We see no children in this family portrait because both figures are older. The woman represented here is the artist’s third wife. Therefore, because of their age and time of life, it is possible that no children resulted from this marriage. As with Rubens, rather than showing a portrait of the entire family with children from previous marriages, we see Comans and his third wife together, perhaps commemorating their new union. Additionally, we see Comans’s work as an artist, with his brushes, palette with color swatches, and painting on an easel in the background. In contrast, his wife is shown reading, perhaps the Bible, which would be similar to van Mander’s wife in that family portrait (Fig. 2). As a result, Comans proudly presents his work and gazes directly into the viewers’ eyes, while the wife merely sits to the side and piously looks up to her husband. At this time, the Netherlandish tradition was to portray no children or show only one child rather than all the children. If the children in the Block’s family portrait would not have been included, it would not have been considered extraordinary. Rather it appears that the inclusion of children is a deliberate decision.

Wallerant_Vaillant_-_Maria_van_Oosterwijck_1671

Figure 6. Wallerant Vaillant, Maria van Oosterwyck, 1671.

Female Artists’ Family Portraits
Female artists who are married or single portray themselves differently in portraits. To begin with, the Netherlandish, unmarried female artists are at greater liberty to represent themselves for three reasons. First, they do not have to include husbands in their paintings. Second, they do not have to include children because having children out of wedlock in a Protestant society would be scandalous, perhaps even detrimental to their careers. Third, they can focus on representing themselves in association to their profession. For example, Wallerant Vaillant’s Maria van Oosterwyck (c. 1671) depicts a representation of this female artist, van Oosterwyck (Fig. 6).

While she never married nor had any children, we see a pallet with paint colors and several brushes in her left hand. Additionally, in her lap, we see a book, which could possibly be the Bible, and her right hand is in the process of turning to the next page. Therefore, we, as the viewers, learn how van Oosterwyck wanted us to perceive her. She is portrayed as an educated, pious woman who identifies as an artist and is proud of her work. Because she is single, she does not have responsibility or societal expectation to portray herself as a wife or a mother.

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Figure 7. Judith Leyster, Self-Portrait, 1630.

Another female artist from the Netherlands is Judith Leyster, who painted a portrait of herself while she was a single woman. Her Self-Portrait (c. 1630) depicts Leyster in the middle of her work with a painting, turning around with numerous brushes in hand (Fig. 7).

Because she is an unmarried woman, she does not have to conform to societal expectations and portray herself as a mother or wife. In contrast, Jan Miense Molenaer’s The Duet (c. 1635–36) depicts a marriage portrait of a couple who are believed to be Leyster and her husband (Fig. 8). Nothing is shown here of Leyster’s work as an artist. Instead, Molenaer is significantly taller, and the hat exaggerates his height in comparison to Leyster, even though both are sitting down. Molenaer was an artist, like his wife, so there is the possibility he felt he was in competition with his wife.

Figure 8. Jan Miense Molenaer, The Duet, 1635–36

Figure 8. Jan Miense Molenaer, The Duet, 1635–36.

Figure 9. Juriaen Pool II, Self-portrait of Juriaen Pool with Rachel Ruysch and their son Jan Willem Pool, 1716 or first quarter of 18th century (1700–1724).

Figure 9. Juriaen Pool II, Self-portrait of Juriaen Pool with Rachel Ruysch and their son Jan Willem Pool, 1716 or first quarter of 18th century (1700–1724).

Another example to consider is Rachel Ruysch (c. 1664–1750), a famous still-life painter. Juriaen Pool II’s Self portrait of Juriaen Pool with Rachel Ruysch and their son Jan Willem Pool (c. 1716 or first quarter of 18th century) is a self-portrait painted by Ruysch’s husband (Fig. 9).

We see a pyramid structure with Pool at the apex and Ruysch at a lower level than her husband. The child, a son, appears to be standing or kneeling, but since he is a child, he is smaller than both parents. We still see a hierarchy with the tallest figure being the man as husband and father, while the woman is placed at a lower level as wife and mother. However, there is still a subtle reference to Ruysch’s work as an artist. Because Ruysch leans away from Pool and rests her arm on the table, the focus is drawn towards the floral arrangement to the side of her. We may not see paintbrushes or any specific representation of her artwork. However, the positioning still shrewdly draws attention to Ruysch’s identity as an artist, since she was well-known for her still-life paintings, specifically of floral arrangements.

Figure 10. Anthony van Dyck, Family Portrait, 1621

Figure 10. Anthony van Dyck, Family Portrait, 1621.

Male artists and female artists are depicted differently in family portraits. Male artists are depicted as taller or larger than everyone else. In van Dyck’s Family Portrait (c. 1621), van Dyck’s wife appears to be sitting with a child on her lap; in contrast, van Dyck does not seem to be sitting but sort of leans awkwardly forward (Fig. 10).

However, van Dyck’s wife and child are still lower in comparison. Additionally, the child looks up to the father in complete adoration.[25] This portrayal contrasts to Rubens’s family portrait of the mother and child looking at one another (Fig. 4). By showing van Dyck’s young child staring devotedly up to the father, the focus is on van Dyck, and the eye immediately is drawn to that corner of the painting. Another example to consider is Jacob Jordaens’s Portrait of the Artist’s Family in the Garden (c. 1623) (Fig. 11). The wife, servant, and child seem to be separated from Jordaens by an invisible line, creating a clear distinction between the man, standing taller above the others, and the rest of the household. With the family portraits of van Dyck and Jordaens, there is no direct representation of themselves as artists (e.g., no brushes or paint is depicted). Yet these two male artists were more well-known—van Dyck, internationally, and Jordaens, in Flanders—perhaps than some Netherlandish female artists and, therefore, did not need to depict their identity as artists.

Figure 11. Jacob Jordaens, Portrait of the Artist’s Family in the Garden, 1623

Figure 11. Jacob Jordaens, Portrait of the Artist’s Family in the Garden, 1623.

Unlike the male artists, these three female artists discussed in the previous paragraphs had to compensate. As an independent woman, van Oosterwyck could work as a painter but was never a wife or mother and could not identify as either (Fig. 6). Leyster seems less independent and confident in the portrait with her husband because her identity as artist is not portrayed, and she is placed physically lower than her husband (Fig. 7). Ruysch’s position is more complicated because although her work is hinted at, she is still placed lower than her husband (Fig. 8). In contrast to these three female artists, Block’s portrait of her family is different. Block herself was an artist and that is shown dominantly in the painting. We see a drawing of a bird, and since she is the one holding the painting or drawing of the bird in her left hand, that seems to suggest a connection between Block and the drawing. Although we do not know for certain if this specific drawing is an exact replication of one of her pieces, it could generally represent her work and study. The book that is bound with two leather straps could be a portfolio of her drawings of plants and animals, suggesting that perhaps this drawing of the bird was one selected from amongst her collection. In the family portrait, depicting children shows Block as a mother figure and role model, while depicting her work reveals her identity as a botanist and an artist.

In the Dutch Republic, if the boundaries of the world and the home were not strictly observed, people expected trouble within the family and in society.[26] But this strict distinction does not seem to be a problem with Block and de Flines. De Jongh claims that de Flines and Block’s marriage must have been in the minority of seventeenth-century marriages because their view of the position of women, in many respects, was not inferior to that of men. Block and de Flines appear to have had a unique relationship built on greater equality and encouragement. Although her husband is shown standing, it is Block who is center stage, and she plays the prevailing role in this family portrait.[28] She is not merely some woman, but she is the mother figure, the wife, the role model as well as the property owner, the artist, and the botanist.

Conclusion
Family portraits represent the identity of the family as an essential unit in society, especially in the Netherlands. Sometimes children are shown, sometimes a single child is included, or none are depicted. If the artist is a female, her work may or may not be suggested in the painting, which could depend on her marital status. Yet Block’s family portrait is unique when compared to the others because Block challenges societal expectations of women of the Netherlands. We see a woman who takes on her role as a mother figure, while also embracing her pride of her property and of her work as a botanist and an artist.

Endnotes

[1] Agnes is sometimes called Agneta Block instead. However, in this paper, she will consistently be referred to as Agnes Block.

[2] Jennifer M. Killian, “Weenix: (2) Jan Weenix,” Oxford Art Online, 22 October 2015, http://www.oxfordartonline.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/subscriber/article/grove/art/T090961pg2?q=%22Agnes+Block%22&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit.

[3] Marioes Huiskamp, “Block, Agneta (1629–1704),” Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, 22 October 2015, http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemmata/data/Block.

[4] John Landwehr, De Nederlander Uit En Thus: Spiegel van het dagelijkse leven uit bijzondere zeventiende-eeuwse boeken, (Amsterdam: A. W. Sitjthoff, 1981), 114.

[5] This painting is also known as Portrait of Sijbrand de Flines, Agnes Block and two children. Another title for the piece is Agneta Block and her garden Flora Batava at Vijveho.

[6] Eddy de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw (Zwolle; Haarlem: Waanders; Frans Hals Museum, 1986), 265.

[7] Marioes Huiskamp, “Block, Agneta (1629–1704),” Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, 22 October 2015, http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemmata/data/Block.

[8] “Portrait of Sijbrand de Flines (1623–1697), Agnes Block (1629–1704) and two children Amsterdam, Amsterdam Museum, inv./can.nr SA20359,” Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, 21 October 2015, https://rkd.nl/en/ explore/images/record?query=Agnes+Block&start=0.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Marioes Huiskamp, “Block, Agneta (1629–1704),” Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, 22 October 2015, http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemmata/data/Block.

[11] In Amsterdam’s Glory: The Old Masters of the City Amsterdam, Norbert Middelkoop and Tom van der Molen believe that the pineapple is believed to originate from Brazil and the cactus from Curaçao. (See page 84.)

[12] Marioes Huiskamp, “Block, Agneta (1629–1704),” Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, 22 October 2015, http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemmata/data/Block.

[13] Katherine Hoffman, Concepts of Identity: Historical and Contemporary Images and Portraits of Self and Family, (New York: IconEditions, 1996), 31.

[14] Laurinda S. Dixon, Perilous Chastity: Women and Illness in Pre-Enlightenment Art and Medicine, (London: Cornell University Press, 1995), 9.

[15] Eddy de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw, (Zwolle; Haarlem: Waanders; Frans Hals Museum, 1986), 265.

[16] C. Catharina Van de Graft, Agnes Block: Vondels Nicht en Vriendin, (Utrecht: A. W. Bruna & Zoon’s Uitgevers-Mij, 1943), 66.

[17] Loughman writes, “Dutch depictions of the interior from the seventeenth century provide a skewed impression of what domestic dwellings looked like and how families conducted themselves in these spaces.” Therefore, it is not surprising that artists presented a representation rather than a reality of a particular scene. See John Loughman, “Domestic Bliss? Images of the Family and Home in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Art,” Images of Familial Intimacy in Eastern and Western Art, ed. by Nakamura Toshiharu (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2014), pp. 102–103.

[18] The original statement reads, “Agnes Block lijkt de opvatting te hebben aangehangen dat de onvolkomen natuur door het menselijk vernuft vervolmaakt diende te worden” and comes from Eddy de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw (Zwolle; Haarlem: Waanders; Frans Hals Museum, 1986), 266.

[19] Mirjam Neumeister, “Changing Images of Childhood: The Children’s Portrait in Netherlandish Art and Its Influence,” Images of Familial Intimacy in Eastern and Western Art, ed. by Nakamura Toshiharu (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2014), pp. 114–115.

[20] Wayne E. Franits, Paragons of Virtue: Women and Domesticity in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 161.

[21] Ibid, pp. 188–189.

[22] Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980), xiii.

[23] Rubens painted numerous paintings of Hélène Fourment with their children or of Rubens and Hélène together. However, this family portrait is unique because we see Rubens, Hélène, and a child all together. See page 39 of Janice Anderson’s Children in Art (London: Bracken Books, 1996) for information on the attractive painting, Hélène Fourment and Two of Her Children (c. 1635).

[24] Rubens and Isabella Brant, his first wife, had three children, who were named Clara, Nikolaas, and Albert.

[25] This depiction of the child looking up adoringly could be compared to his portrait of James Stuart, Duke of Richmond and Lennox (c. 1634–35), where the greyhound looks up, idolizing its master.

h2_89.15.16

Anthony van Dyck, James Stuart (1612–1655), Duke of Richmond and Lennox, ca. 1634–35.

[26] Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches, (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), 400.

[27] The original statement reads, “De echtver- bintenis van De Flines en Agnes Block moet tot die minderheid van zeventiende-eeuwse huwelijken worden gerekend waarin de positie van de vrouw in velerlei opzicht niet voor die van de man onderdeed.,” which comes from Eddy de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw (Zwolle; Haarlem: Waanders; Frans Hals Museum, 1986), 266.

[28] Eddy de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw (Zwolle; Haarlem: Waanders; Frans Hals Museum, 1986), 266.

Bibliography

Anderson, Janice. Children in Art. London: Bracken Books, 1996.

De Jongh, Eddy. Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw. Haarlem: Frans Hals Museum, 1986.

Dixon, Laurinda S. Perilous Chastity: Women and Illness in Pre-Enlightenment Art and Medicine. London: Cornell University Press, 1995.

Franits, Wayne E. Paragons of Virtue: Women and Domesticity in Seventeenth-Century Ducth  Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Hoffman, Katherine. Concepts of Identity: Historical and Contemporary Images and Portraits of Self and Family. New York: IconEditions, 1996.

Huiskamp, Marioes. “Block, Agneta (1629–1704).” Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland. 22 October 2015, http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemmata/data/Block.

Killian, Jennifer M. “Weenix: (2) Jan Weenix.” Oxford Art Online. 22 October 2015. http://www.oxfordartonline.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/subscriber/article/grove/art/T090961pg2?q=%22Agnes+Block%22&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit.

Landwehr, John. De Nederlander Uit En Thus: Spiegel van het dagelijkse leven uit bijzondere zeventiende-eeuwse boeken. Amsterdam: A. W. Sitjthoff. 1981.

Loughman, John. “Domestic Bliss? Images of the Family and Home in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Art.” Images of Familial Intimacy in Eastern and Western Art. Edited by Nakamura Toshiharu. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2014.

Middelkoop, Norbert, and Tom van der Molen. Amsterdam’s Glory: The Old Masters of the City of Amsterdam. Amsterdam: Thoth Publishers Bussum. 2009.

Neumeister, Mirjam. “Changing Images of Childhood: The Children’s Portrait in Netherlandish Art and Its Influence.” Images of Familial Intimacy in Eastern and Western Art. Edited by Nakamura Toshiharu. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2014.

“Portrait of Sijbrand de Flines (1623–1697), Agnes Block (1629–1704) and two children Amsterdam, Amsterdam Museum, inv./can.nr SA20359.” Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie. 21 October 2015. https://rkd.nl/en/ explore/images/record?query=Agnes+Block&start=0.

Schama, Simon. The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

Van de Graft, C. Catharina. Agnes Block: Vondels Nicht en Vriendin. Utrecht: A. W. Bruna & Zoon’s Uitgevers-Mij, 1943.

Written Wednesday: “Why a Man Should Never Object to a Woman Splitting the Bill”

Carl Holsoe, “At the Breakfast Table,” date unknown. Oil on canvas.


If a woman ever suggests paying for her dinner when she is on a date with a man,

he is quick to object.

Why even dare propose such a thought?

Of course not.

No.

Never!

Yet why does this protestation occur?

Cultural obedience.

Money dost rule.

Chivalry is dead.

God save the queen—she cannot save herself!

’Tis a cost too high.

My paying for dinner does not transform you,

does not change your gender,

does not change your biology.

You are still a man,

Even if I split the bill.

There are kindnesses;

There are actions, of course.

But that does not mean that they should be demanded, by either side.

You will not woo me by buying me

a six cent sweet or

a sixty dollar six-course meal

at a quarter past six.

Owe you I not;

Therefore, expect you not anything.

You woo me when you

Entreat me to be your

Equal.

So let me be.

And you talk with me—

intellectually and politely—

push me and argue with me—

think about what I have to say

   and who I am.

Many men have bought my bill,

but I have not bought theirs.

’Tis too high a cost.

Written Wednesday: Alizabeth Leake

Alizabeth Leake—talented poet, wonderful tutor, caring friend. Her gifted writing skills are shown below in some of the poems she has allowed me to post here on this blog. Enjoy!  ❤

Love Story of a Dirt Road

I pulled at my mother’s sleeve

when I couldn’t match my feet to hers,

feeling pricks of scab at her elbows

that she always had

from clawing her goose bumps,

 

and asked if I could take a picture

of a shoreline of mud on an overturned rock,

a single soggy sock on the road.

 

The love story of a country road

is not a song

an essay

an attempt to say

the thin-wind thirst of the long, sun worn days

 

it does not speak through

the weeds

fence posts

layers of rock, or even

a single, dry feather.

 

It is as silent as the highest winter-limbs of the cedar.

 

We stayed until evening because to leave meant

to be alone again, as is a part of love,

 

and with the setting red sun all sank into

a prayer that hangs by the root tangles,

heavier than the tired eyelids

of the newborn.


To the Stairs from My Room in the Basement

At day, I’ll smell your climate of small

bodies shadow-legged and webbed and pay

my morning salutation so each vertebrae

in your bent back cracks under heel’s fall,

take the slanted staff that stems the wall—

forget the bed of my spent head you play

this night, my ribs and hips and face that lay

hard swollen in your crib, forget all.

Against your diagonal wilderness

this night I compass my angular soul,

though the weather of loneliness and soft yawn.

You are the chamber in which I undress

and arrange rigid limbs. Hold me whole,

old heart-closet, keep, bridge me to dawn.


To My OCD

Age 5. You looked for the chain of paper clips hooked

beneath the top drawer, felt for coins in the slots

of my cassette case and between picture book pages,

for beads dug through the seams of stuffed animals

and looked again because only if they weren’t there

would you remember checking for the things I’d stolen.

 

Age 7. You hid in a cupboard set between black marble floor

and black marble countertop when you skipped little league

cheer practice because you weren’t supposed to be home.

I stared at the pins of light that came through the hinges.

 

Age 13. In the after-vacation invasion, my brother found

a jar of pickles, the lid’s pressure button belly-up.

Everyone else had egg salad for lunch and lost it

for dinner. I declined, and for that I thank you.

 

Age 18.  My EMT workbook open on my desk: two wings

limp with fatigue. Check-offs in the margins like beaker marks,

a purple-capped phial of separated blood in my pencil mug.

I almost finished at the top of the class but you convinced me

not to take the exam so I would never risk mixing winged

with shielded IV catheters or counting CPR beats too quickly.

 

One day, you’ll shuffle over tile in padded orthopedics

so I wake in the morning and wonder what I heard,

knee jerk my way downstairs to check the furnace and jump

at an empty popcorn bag. Maybe, I’ll wonder just long enough

to forget whether or not I should latch the chimney at night.


Wooden Ducks

A pair of them, Korean, one of three decorations that I wasn’t willing to leave at home when I went to college. One of the beaks is painted green and the other red with the wood visible beneath. Each cups the length of my palm, a little skinnier, a little taller, the weight of an egg. After eleventh grade when my friend went back home to Seul after a year, she gave them to me in a silk sack. “Remember, this is wedding gift, for happy marriage.”

I keep one in each boot.


At Closing

Behind the refrigerator doors

hall of mirrors,

behind the metal racks under the light bulbs’

spread, there fallen

 

on dark cement: a gallon of skim milk,

handle split like an opened bean,

milk pours staccato out of the seam

the widening tundra-gray tide.

 

A grocer boy with hands in pockets

counts empty slots down the dairy aisle,

across the spill’s edge,

the milk prickling on rough cement.


In Motion

1. A smooth surface reflects light in a single, brilliant beam. It is on the harsh and fractured ground that light disperses, touching our dark corners.

2. Friction. 1) Static: The resistance to starting movement. 2) Kinetic: The resistance to continuing movement. Remember holding hands for the first time?

3. The principle of latent heat demonstrates that the temperature we feel is the transfer of heat or energy between two objects. We measure all things by measuring the change in ourselves.


Microwave

brown rice spills

out of a blue tupperware

like yesterday’s minutes.


On Prayer

When you first learn a song, play with one hand at a time.

When you know the right and left, play with both hands together.

When you know a song in your heart, forget how to play the one hand without the other.

 

Creative Fiction: “Entrepó”

Entrepó

Last summer of the Year of the Revolution
The First Unit split into three: the sapphire hearts, the ruby stars, the emerald diamonds; the Second Unit argued about whether sapphires and rubies would join
The Third Unit didn’t care
I was part of the Third Unit,
Yet at the time, I knew nothing

Politics meant nothing to me, and talking heads sounded like voodoo magic gone wrong
It’s not that I didn’t care—I just didn’t know, I just wasn’t aware of my surroundings
All I cared about was my surgery, a little preoccupied, I guess you could say
That summer everything would change
I was born different, and, finally, I would fit in with other kids my age
I couldn’t go away from class because, well, my parents didn’t think that I would fit in
I’d be made fun of, pushed, teased, tricked out of a normal adolescent’s experience
If the surgery went well, they said, I could go with the other students to class
Homeschool would no longer be an option
Okay, I said to them. I can do this, I said.

The surgery experimental and expensive—I was a lucky one, my parents told me
The requirements included connections and being over the age of fifteen—I was that plus an additional four months due to paperwork and payments and under-the-table negotiations
I wasn’t really aware about that either until later

Never before had I been allowed to play with kids my age
Nor had I been allowed really go outside alone without either parent by my side
I could walk fine and learned how to read through hard work, but it had happened through blood, sweat, tears
And learned about all sorts of history
Like pop star music hits and movie quotes and listened to everything I could get my hands on
I wanted to be prepared to fit in as much as the other kids once the surgery happened
One day I heard there would be a live performance of a play I had partly read a few years ago, downtown the night before my surgery

A famous name blurred by, I think it came from the TV, yet I just couldn’t figure out his name
Was it foreign? I hadn’t heard of it before, but I knew that I needed to go see this play, even if I hadn’t completely finished reading it. . . At least I kinda knew what it was about
What if the other students would go to this performance?
I needed to go, to fit in, to be cultured
To hear the words from Mr. K— D——

I wasn’t to go, especially never alone, I was told
It was too dangerous, they claimed
Being alone at that time of night at this time of year was especially unsafe
I would enjoy it more after the surgery, and the family could all go; my parents lovingly informed me that the Glasmere’s party was that evening, couldn’t I remember that, silly me

Because I wasn’t allowed to go outside, I asked if they could pick up some books for me, from the library since we weren’t able to purchase books that weren’t used–too expensive
Especially maps, like of old places and such, at the library nowadays
I had asked the maid to pick up a book about bus maps and descriptions of the city
The maid, in her little distant voice, placed her tiny hands in mine and promised to do so
“Ah vill geet vou deese boooks. Vut vill Ah dhell vour pahrents, vough?”
They would worry, of course, about “reading” so much before surgery and thinking too much and worrying too much about the world instead of focusing on preparing for surgery
I thought she had caught onto my plan
But no worries–I told her that reading helped to distract me and not to bother my parents with the silly things I wanted to read from the special library collection
Feeling those pages were liberation in my hands, freedom for my heart
Hours were spent in my room, hiding these treasure troves under my pillows
Pouring my soul into my liberty, my social salvation

The last performance of the show was the night before my surgery
My parents, fortunately, were to be guests elsewhere and asked,
“Are you sure you can be alone for a night without us both by your side”–they feared my fate without knowing my schemes
My dreams of running away were a silent whisper in my mind
The car was ready, the dinner prepared beforehand, and all was set according to plan
Kisses were shared, good-byes were said
Off they dashed into the world as I was left to remain alone in my room
But I had planned every moment as to not to be missed
As soon as I could no longer hear the car’s vroooooooom, I began my journey, which started in the opposite direction
I would turn three lefts at the corner, then one right at the last
The bus would arrived every ten minutes

Right on time
People chattered around me, their voices blending and blurring together as we collectively scrambled onto the steps
My careful steps were guided and safe
As I took my seat on my first bus ride alone

The bus stopped right in front of the theatre so I waited patiently, listening for The Charleston’s Theatre to ring through the air
Stepped off, found the line, bought my ticket, through the doors, showed my seat
All happened without a problem to bog mind, to distract my clarity
My stomach fluttered and quivering thoughts trembled in my mind of being caught in my act of escape
But no one mumbled in my ear to leave, and no one grabbed my arm in accusation
I merely sat in my seat when the curtains rustled
Voices of a chorus of men and women rung in my ears
Sweet, odd music–melodiously sad and melancholy–echoed through the theatre
Describing the fate of the hero at stake
He would do despicable things, but why would he do those acts?
Someone muttered behind me on my right how this was suppose to be Director Kaffkav’s best work yet
Another person on my left perhaps two rows back sighed and muttered about the beauty of the costumes, while the person beside me turned to me, her voice creaking like a frog’s old croak, saying how shocked she was that the staging was so bare

I said nothing, focusing on the lyrical words the performers spoke
These actors could play their voices as if they were instruments
Gentle yet strong; sometimes passionate but controlled

My favorite voice to listen to was the main actor, Gulioni Voce
His voice rung like sturdy, silver bells through the hall
Surprised—no ringing tinge of Italian when he spoke English translation of this Greek tragedy
My blood curled when I heard the prophet’s prophecy
My hair stood on end when Voce’s chilling cry sounded when he found the body of his role’s wife
My stomach churned when the despair of his voice sounded as he gouged out his eyes
The woman next to me muttered how startling the gold the pins looked in contrast to the black set that enshrined the actor
No man, no woman, no one is fortunate
Until they are dead
The echoes of those words chilled me to my very core

Even after the play ended
And the audience clapped
Those words resonated, as if bouncing back and forth inside my empty mind
All the way home
As I sat silently on the bus ride home, unable to look out the window and see the actors exiting the theatre to sign autographs or the audience’s plastered smiles or to see the red carpet rolled out, like blood spilling into the flowing waters of the Nile

I wanted to be Moses of the Old Testament—let my people go, let my Oedipus go
To the pharaoh of Egypt, to the writer of the Greek tragedy
Oedipus would never have done that, would never have gouged out his eyes, no matter how terrible the crime—sight was a gift from god, and no one should take that away
Sighing, I leaned my head to the left, resting my head against the hard rail, but I just couldn’t believe that the writer would or could ever write something as terrible as that
I guess I should have finished reading the play before I went to go see it live
That way I wouldn’t have been so surprised by the ending
I didn’t know—I didn’t know that would end that way
My head suddenly jerked forward, mid-thought

A screech of the breaks sounded, and I couldn’t feel the bus moving anymore
Why had we stopped?
The bus was silent, so I guess I was the last one, although the ride had not been very long, and a voice sprung to life, I guess it sounded like it was coming out of little, square box near my right ear
“All passengers off, please. Now, please. Ma’am, that would be you.”
But it was early
This wasn’t my stop. I was waiting for number 520, not 430
None of my protests helped
The bus driver escorted me down the steps.

Apparently, this bus stopped at number 430 after 10:00 p.m.
No, it wouldn’t go any further
Yes, yes, yes. Cut through the park, honey. You can use your cane to follow the fence rails. On the other side of the park, yes, yes, bus 520, that’s right, will be the bus stop you need.

His words still echo in my ears: yes, yes, yes . . .
His job was done. He wanted me off. He wanted to go home
But so did I.
So I did the only thing I could do—I started my journey across the park

Although my life is in constant darkness, I learned to be able to feel darkness, or heavy darkness, I guess you could call it
Of course, it was dark outside, but the shrouded trees felt like a blasphemous shrine, like the ones Catholics use, or maybe not, I read about it once in a book
Like dark magic or Satan worship or something I can’t quite remember the name of, you know, how certain words like that can just leave your brain in a moment
The park, I was completely unfamiliar with
The path, it was unknown

The fence, it rambled tap, tap, tap as my cane hit each bar as I walked
Alone, utterly alone, and lost—the fence ended, and I was left at a fork in the park’s pathway
As far as I could tell, at this point in time, no one was around me
Alone, utterly alone, and lost

“Hey, tootsie. You a red or a blue? You sure as hell better not be one of ’em greens’.”

A voice erupted behind me—I dropped my cane

“Who said that?” I mumbled under my breath. No one answered. Then I said it again, louder. Then again, even louder. The fourth time I said it, my voice came out in a shuddering scream.

But nobody answered my query
Yet I could hear, like bats flapping their wings in a cave, several bodies begin swish, swish with their clothing, you know how it rubs against your legs, and they came, circling me, and I didn’t know which way to turn, you know when you feel disoriented and don’t know right form left or up or down

I think I tripped, maybe over my cane I had dropped and tried desperately to feel out with my feet, but maybe it was one of the boys he started jeering near my ear and my heart jumped and a stumbled over a root or something or maybe it was a foot, I really don’t know

“I don’t see no red or no greenie or no even blue mark on ’er. What’d’e do?” The voice whined, like a sick dog in the heat.

“No mark means no side, right’e’o?” Another voice jumped out across the other side.

“No. What are you saying. No mark means ain’t mean no side. No mark means she one- ’em, don’t cha ’member, you’d be shitin’, fools. She one ’em. She a thirdy. She bets she’s one ’em purdy, thirdy, uppedys.”

The voice lurked like seeping black spit bursting from a tar pit
Then I felt a kick, and I was already on the ground, but my face landed in the gritty sand, and the sand rubbed my face raw, and he kicked again and then I felt more feet kicking me and a rumbling chant emerged in the back throttle of their voices “dirty thirdy, dirty thirdy” because I was part of the Third Unit

Please—Stop—Please—No, I’m—Please—

They did not hear my cries, and the more I said, the more they hurt me, and finally, someone kicked me in the mouth, and I felt warm blood spurt out on my face as two or three guys grabbed my legs and dragged me, like a dead, worthless deer you move out of the road, to a nearby tree, I guess more hidden from the path, even though I scratched and clawed and tried to scream but someone gagged me and someone grabbed my head and someone tied a hard cloth across my mouth

Hot, weathered rope burned across my hands and as they tied me to the tree like a wounded puppy being punished, and they tore my pretty white tights as they ripped and tore with their fingers and whatever they could grab and they hurt me, deeper, deeper, inside, they tore and I tried to fight I did, but I grew tired and melted and hurt as they climbed, as if conquered, on top of me, one, two, three, four, five. . .

They climbed on top of me and tried to climb me like a tree, each digging, tearing into my aching, bleeding body

The stabbing thrusts and jabs began to slow, tears and blood stained my face, and the mutterings “dirty thirdy,” after they threw something at my face and spat on my mangled flesh, began to fade in the cooling evening of the darkness
I had never felt darkness as I did that night
Salty, painful tears sprawled down from my silent eyes as I wished in the fragrantless stillness that I had never disobeyed my parent’s advice, that I had stayed home, that I had never gone outside alone

Because I never, ever in my life had felt alone as I did in this moment
I was left on the ground, like a tied up calf about to be sacrificed on an alter

When a voice emerged across my left side, I jolted and convulsed, but a hushing sound. . .
A girl’s hand touched my face as she loosened my gag, and I could feel another boy’s hands as he cut the ties from my hands

“Why’re ya oot ’night? Don’t cha know. . . ’night were da raids? Ya don’t have yar star or emerald on?”

“Oh, oh, oh, oh, Emelily. . . she one a ’em. Can’t cha see? She’d be a thirdy!”

I breathed in and out and tried to calm myself. My aching back made it difficult to sit up, but my mouth and hands were free.

“Yes, I’m from the third district,” I whispered. “But I’m blind. Do you see my cane? Please, please hand that to me. Yes, that’s it, yes. Please, can you help me get home?”

The young boy and girl were silent for a moment.

“Please,” I begged in my quietest tone. “I don’t care what side you’re on. And you shouldn’t care what side I’m on. We’re the same, can’t you see that? I know I can’t see, but you two are good, aren’t you?”

The two sat in silence for a few more moments. The girl then decided that her brother and she would help me home. But we would have to be fast. I realize now that they could have been killed if they were seen helping me. I pray to God that they weren’t.
When I told the little boy and girl my address, the little girl pinned a star to my chest. I was now one of them.

The little boy with soft, gentle hands delicately held my hand, and the girl, several inches taller than the other child, carefully wrapped her arms around me to give me support
We walked as quickly as I was able to, given that, although nothing felt broken, my back hurt to move or to be touched, and my ankle was twisted

The three of us, creatures lurking through the night, hide in the shadows and behind trees, avoiding other groups storming through the park, attacking passerbys, and those muffled screams sent shivers through my body

No police sirens were heard—no justice would be served this night
The attackers were the judges, their parents the jury, these two children, my saviors

The girl whispered in my ear when we had exited the park. My home was just a block or two away from the park. The streets were hushed, the houses silent.
No cars zoomed by in a rush to make curfew, and I knew my parents would not be home for hours still.

The Third District went to sleep at 8 p.m. during the workdays, unless it was a Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday or Saturday or Sunday, because the Third District never worked—of course, unless you counted shuffling cards and enjoying hors d’oeuvres

The little boy and girl helped me enter the back gate of the house, holding my broken body somehow with their unexplainable strength
My bedroom was on the first floor of the flat, the window on the side, and I had left the screen down on purpose so I could sneak in after the play had finished
I whispered good-bye to the children, but I couldn’t tell if they had already scrambled away, back to the park to save other strangers like they had saved me
I closed the window and locked it

After I felt my way to the door and opened the bathroom door, I turned the water on and stepped in while pulling my filthy clothes off; while the water ran, I scrubbed the mix of blood and dirt off.
I was glad I couldn’t look in the mirror. Never before had I felt such shame, such guilt.
I let the water run. I just sat, empty and hollow and naked, in the bare tub.

“Oh, Julia! You are up! Did you hear the news? Last night, the Ruby stars, that’s what they’re calling them now, they attacked several people in the park last night. Your father and I will need to move soon. That nonsense! So close to our flat! It’s unheard of. Those people. . . well, indeed, they’ve never ventured so close to the Third Unit before in all my life. Can you hear that, Julia! Never before have I ever seen this trag—”

“Nor have I, mother. I have never seen before, you know that,” I interrupted.

My mother paused. I could hear her shuffling papers, and something was sizzling on the stove. She knew I wasn’t suppose to eat breakfast. But there she was, making eggs or bacons or toast for me, and I wasn’t suppose to eat.

“Oh, Julia! Don’t be so sensitive. You know today you will be able to see! Your surgery is
just in a few hours! I know I should have stayed home last night. Oh, you know. To be with you. I should have known you’d be more nervous than you’ve been letting on. But that party, oh the dresses and the food, it was all just so divine.”

“No.”

“No, what? What’s wrong now?” My mother’s tone pinched and twisted like knives stabbing me in my throbbing lower back.

“I’m not going. I can’t go today. I’ve decided I don’t wan the surgery.”

My mother’s voice shook, “And when was this decided? It’s already been paid for. The arrangements are made, Julia. Don’t be silly, Julia. You’re being selfish, Julia. You’re just sacred, that’s normal, it’s perfectly normal, in fact, but think how long you’ve been waiting for this, Julia. You’ve always wanted this.”

She had no clue. She had no clue what had happened to me. She was blissfully unaware. She was just as blind as I was. She couldn’t see her own daughter.

I didn’t answer her. I just walked into my room. Shame burned in my face, but I locked the door because I couldn’t bear to hear her any more. I couldn’t listen to the words she would ask if she saw the tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t bear the shame any longer. I turned the lock on the door and that was that.

I would not go to the surgery—it didn’t matter how long my mother begged, encouraged, threatened, yelled, cried.
I didn’t open my door, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think, but all I knew was that I would never ever see the world that had done this to me. Nor could I ever see the faces of my parents if they ever learned what had happen to me, that I had disobeyed them, that I had

I have just hid in my room, writing my experience in poetry (I do have a computer and taught myself how to type), right now as I do, I know that it’s not very good, and sometimes I forget commas and periods and misspel words and maybe the grammar are sometimes wrong, and that there’s no rhyme scheme, no great story, no great tragic hero, yet it feels like a Greek tragedy to me, and my lines ramble on and on just as my thoughts do

This is my story, my experience. I will read and reread it from beginning to end. No man, no woman, no one—not even this young, naïve blind girl—are fortunate until they are dead

I am Oedipus. I am blind.

 

~ Some Explanation:

Entrepó, as used here in the title, in Greek means to turn to confusion, to put to shame, or to recoil in shame. Recently, I read in the news about a horrific event that happened; a man raped a blind woman. I wanted to analyze the idea of reader’s response in this story/poem (is it arrogant to make up the term “storem”?) set in the unspecified future (perhaps something like this could happen even tomorrow) set in a revolutionary and restless time with a young, blind girl, who is a reader of the special library’s books written in brail. Sometime, not mentioned here in the story, this blind girl read Oedipus.

How would a blind reader respond to the text and then a performance of that the Greek tragedy, Oedipus? Oedipus is a complicated play, and I am not sure if this play would fit into the requirements of Johnson’s intense morality, even though Oedipus is punished severely at the end. Perhaps the Greek tragedy, following the Horacian principles, does entertain, by shocking readers, and instructs, by showing readers what not to do.

Yet this young girl does not know how to respond to the play. The audience members are supposed to represent various interpretive communities, such as what Fish proposes, shown here through their (undeniably rude) running commentary throughout the play; the audience each has his or her own bias, yet this does assist the blind girl in shaping her perspective, since she selects which comments she values, which is revealed in this story through what comments she remembers and writes down.

Even though the girl can hear the audience’s responses, the blind girl still does not know how to respond to her experience. Yes, she read the play. Yes, she watched the play. But her underlying question is why anyone would ever make themselves blind—removing one’s sight, when receiving sight is the very thing she has longed for her entire life.

It is not until the unexpected happens that the blind girl’s perspective changes: the bus stops, she becomes lost, she is attacked and maliciously raped by a gang. The naïve girl is not completely aware of what has happened, but she knows it is something so serious and terrible that she cannot tell her parents. She feels like she has ignored her parents’ counsel (she was not to leave home), just as Oedipus ignored the prophecy of Tiresias. As a result, the blind girl feels inexorable shame, just as Oedipus felt shame.

Rather than plunging long, golden pins into her eyes as Oedipus does, the blind girl refuses to have the surgery performed to restore her eyesight, choosing a life of darkness to never see the light of the world where people did these terrible things to her. She opts to read from the safety of her home and in the darkness of never seeing the shame in her parents eyes as reflect in the shame of her own heart.

One claim Iser makes is that every time the reader reads a text, there is the possibility of discovering new perspectives from each reader. Yet, because of this traumatic experience, the blind girl continues to read and reread the play. Now, she is caught in a trap, like a mouse caught in a spinning wheel. I would like to believe that my character will one day, hopefully soon, reach out for help.

Although her relationship with her parents is strained, perhaps she will confess what has happened to the maid or to some other trusted adult. Just as sharing stories with other readers brings out different perspectives, I believe that through telling her rape story to others, she will gain new perspectives as people tell their stories, or their perspectives, to her.

Before she is able to share her story with others, she feels like she must write down her story, in poetic form, because that’s what the great Greek tragedians did. By writing her story, she shares it, even if it is only with herself. Her writing is full of errors, but it is supposed to be flawed.

Please leave any comments or questions below!!!  🙂

The Catcher in the Rye, Chapters 22-23

The Catcher in the Rye, Chapters 22-23

Here are the yay/nay/gray thoughts of the day:

YAY:

Although it’s kinda creepy that Holden sits in his sister’s room watching her sleeping, Holden seems to connect with Phoebe, who enables him to open up more. Holden describes Phoebe like a school teacher (167), and Phoebe tells him not to swear so much (168) and says that Holden doesn’t like anything (169). Holden explains that he likes Allie.

Holden says, “I know he’s dead. Don’t you think I know that? I can still like him, though, can’t I? Just because somebody’s dead, you don’t just stop liking them, for God’s sake – especially if they were about a thousand times nicer than the people you know that’re alive and all” (171).

NAY:

At the close of chapter 23, while Holden was sneaking out with his parents still in, Holden explains, “For one thing, I didn’t give much of a damn any more if they caught me. I really didn’t. If figured if they caught me, they caught me. I almost wished they did, in a way” (180).

Most of this book is such a push and pull. The reader seems to make some progress into understanding Holden when he will open up and share something. Then he says things like this. He doesn’t care if he gets caught. But he really does want to get caught. Most of the book doesn’t feel like progress at all, though.

GRAY:

In chapter 22, we learn when Holden was showering one time at school, a boy named James Castle committed suicide by jumping out the window: “I was in the shower and all, and even I could hear him land outside. But I just thought something fell out the window, a radio or a desk or something, not a boy or anything” (170). Holden describes the gruesome scene and how the James was wearing Holden’s turtle neck sweater that he had lent to him previously.

Holden explains, “The funny part is, I hardly even know James Castle, if you want to know the truth. He was one of these very quiet guys” (171).

This moment in the book is terribly sad and gruesome. However, it is poignant, as well, by giving the reader a deeper connection with Holden’s inner psychology.

More (silly) Questions:

What is a Yogi guy (175) that Holden mentions in chapter 23?

In “A Reader’s Companion to J. D. Salinger’s the Catcher in the Rye” by Peter G. Beidler, it explains that “A Yogi is a person who practices Yoga, a method of breathing, movement, and meditation” (188).

We learn that Robert Burns wrote the poem “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” (173). Here is some interesting information about this poem: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comin’_Thro’_the_Rye

Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York City: Bantam Book, 1951. Print